Noun clauses: types, functions and important rules

In this post, we learn noun clauses in detail. There’s a video lecture on noun phrases at the end of the post; you can directly scroll down to it if you prefer videos to articles.

We know what a noun is. A name of something or somebody: person, thing, place, feeling, idea, concept, activity. We also know what a noun phrase is: a more detailed name using a noun and some modifiers.

Now, what is a noun clause? Why do we even use a noun clause when we have nouns and noun phrases? Let’s master everything about noun clauses.

What is a clause in English?

Clause: a group of words that has the subject- verb combination is called a clause. It has the presence of both the subject and the verb.

Types of clauses

  1. Dependent clause
  2. Independent clause

Dependent clause: a group of words that have both a subject and a verb but doesn’t give a complete meaning and depend on an independent clause is called a dependent clause. It starts with a subordinating conjunction.

Independent clause: an independent clause gives a complete meaning on its own. It’s a complete sentence.

What is a noun clause in English?

Noun clause definition: a noun clause is a dependent clause that works as a noun in a sentence. Since it is a dependent clause, it can’t stand on its own and give a complete meaning. A noun clause starts with the following subordinating conjunctions:

  • That
  • Which
  • Who
  • Whom
  • Whoever
  • Whomsoever
  • What
  • Whatever
  • When
  • Whenever
  • Where
  • Wherever
  • How
  • However
  • Why
  • Whether
Noun phrase in English with examples
Noun clause in English with examples

Examples of noun clauses

  • Whatever you are eating looks appealing.
    (Here, the noun clause, in red, is working as the subject. What looks appealing? The noun clause answers this question. Rather than taking a specific name of the dish that looks appealing to the speaker, the speaker is using a group of words that has a subject-verb combination (noun clause). The speaker may not know the name of the dish or does not want to name it.)
  • I don’t know why you broke up with her.
    (Here, the noun clause is working as the object of the verb know. It answers the question WHAT.)
  • I don’t believe in what I haven’t experienced.
    (The noun clause, here, is working as the object of the preposition in. I don’t believe IN what? You believe in something or somebody. I don’t believe in GOD/YOU/MONEY/THIS. We are using a noun clause to tell WHAT the speaker does not believe in.)
  • His problem was that he didn’t listen to anyone.
    (What’s the name of his problem? The noun clause answers this in the sentence. You can replace it with a noun or a pronoun.)
  • You can call me whatever you want.
    (You can call me what? The noun clause is renaming the object ‘me.’)

Functions of a noun clause in English

Just like a noun, a noun clause in English can play the following roles in a sentence:

  1. As the subject
  2. As the object of the main verb
  3. As the object of a preposition
  4. Subject complement
  5. Object complement

Noun clauses as the subject

Like a noun or a noun phrase, a noun clause also works as the subject of a sentence.

Examples of noun clauses as the subject:

  • Whatever you are eating looks appealing.
  • Where he hid the money is impossible to find.
  • Whoever made this building is a genius.
  • Why he broke up with that girl is still a mystery to me.
  • Whom Jon is fighting next is a dangerous opponent.

Note: replace a noun clause with a pronoun or a noun to check if it is actually a noun clause.

  • It looks appealing.
  • That place is impossible to find.
  • Rony is a genius.
  • That/your breakup is still a mystery to me.
  • Connor is a dangerous opponent.

Noun clause as the object of a verb

A noun clause can also work as the object of a verb. Let’s take some examples of noun clauses as the object of an action verb:

  • I don’t know what your hobbies are.
  • My father doesn’t like whom I’m dating.
  • Do you know who ate my sandwich?
  • She doesn’t understand what I do for money.
  • Have you met whom I love?
  • He loves where we live.
  • They can’t give us what we want.

NOTE: a sentence must have a transitive verb or ditransitive verb in order to have a direct object.

Noun clause as the object of a preposition

When noun clauses function as the object of a preposition, they come right after the preposition. Let’s take some examples of noun clauses as an object of a preposition:

  • She is thinking about what she should do with her life.
  • Max has feelings for whom we met last night in the park.
  • We are going to where we went last week.
  • Most people believe in what they haven’t experienced.
  • Don’t get into what you don’t know a thing about.
  • In terms of taste, this is not even close to what we had at Jon’s party.

Noun clause as the subject complement

Subject complement: a subject complement is a word or a group of words that identifies the subject of a sentence and completes its meaning by either renaming it or modifying it. A noun renames the subject, and an adjective modifies it.

Now, let’s take some examples of noun clauses as the subject complement:

  • Your true friends are who help you achieve your goals. (Your true friends = who help you achieve your goals)
  • My favorite people are whom I am with right now.
  • My favorite movie is what I’m watching right now.
  • The love of my life is who I’m looking at.
  • Happiness is what’s inside the bag.
  • Your problem is that you don’t listen to anyone.

In the above examples, the noun clauses are giving a new name to the subject or describing it with a new name.

Noun clauses as the object complement

Object complement: an object complement is a word or a group of words that either renames the direct object or modifies it. A noun renames it, and an adjective modifies it.

Now, let’s take some examples of noun clauses as the object complement:

  • My friends can call me whatever they want.
  • They elected me what I didn’t want to be.
  • The company will announce the winner whoever finishes the task first.
  • His parents named me what I hate to be called.

Why should we use a noun clause in English?

We have a noun, we have a noun phrase, then why should we use a noun clause? The whole purpose of using a noun clause is to name something or somebody indirectly. We use noun clauses to refer to a name.

There are two situations where we use a noun clause:

  1. When we don’t know the specific name of somebody or something.
  2. When we don’t want to take the name of somebody or something.

Whom you were with last night is not a right person for you.

The noun clause, whom you were with last night, refers to a name of a person. Now, there are two situations where I will say this:

  1. I don’t know the name of the person you were with. (or)
  2. I know the name of the person you were with, but I don’t want to tell you that.

I want what you are eating.

The noun clause, what you are eating, refers to a name of a dish. The speaker does not know the name of the dish, and that’s why the noun clause is used.

How to form a noun clause?

A noun clause must have the following items in it:

  1. Subordinating conjunction
  2. Subject of the noun clause
  3. Verb

These are the three items you need, at least, to form a noun clause.

Structure: Subordinating conjunction + subject + verb + other parts (optional)

I don’t know what you want.

  • Subordinating conjunction = what
  • Subject = you
  • Verb = want

Nobody could understand how she designed the application in 3 hours.

  • Subordinating conjunction = how
  • Subject = she
  • Verb = designed
  • Object = the application
  • Modifier (adverb) = in 3 hours

NOTE: don’t make the mistake of placing the verb before the subject in a noun clause. It’s a common practice if the noun clause is a part of an interrogative sentence.

  • Do you like what you are eating? ✔️
  • Do you like what are you eating? ❌
  • Did they know who I was with? ✔️
  • Did they know who was with me? ❌
  • In this lesson, we’ll learn what noun clauses are. ✔️
  • In this lesson, we’ll learn what are noun clauses. ❌

Important points

A) Choose the right conjunction between WHO and WHOM.

WHO is used as the subject of a verb, and WHOM is used as the object of a verb and a preposition.

Who kissed me last night is a special person.✅

Whoever kissed me last night is a special person.✅

Whom kissed me last night is a special person.

Whomever kissed me last night is a special person. ❎

I don’t know whom you like.

Note that WHOM can’t be used as the subject, but WHO, in modern English, can be and is generally used as the object of a verb or a preposition. WHOM is almost on the verge of getting obsolete.

I don’t know who you like.

I don’t know whoever you like.

B) Using THAT at the beginning of a noun clause as a subject might sound odd to some people.

THAT is often used as the subject of a noun clause. But when it comes in the beginning of a sentence, it sounds unpleasant or strange, at least. Do note that using it in the beginning of a sentence is grammatically correct. It just sounds unpleasant to many people.

  • That he has never kissed a girl is shocking.

The sentence is starting with a noun clause, That he has never kissed a girl, using THAT at the beginning. Grammatically, there is nothing wrong with this sentence. But it grates on many people’s ears.

  • That he hasn’t eaten any fruits yet is unbelievable to me.

The noun clause “that he hasn’t eaten any fruits yet” is coming in the beginning of the sentence and is starting with the conjunction THAT. Grammatically, there’s nothing wrong with this. But it might grate on your ears.

  • The fact that he has never kissed a girl is shocking.
  • The fact that he hasn’t eaten any fruits yet is unbelievable to me.

You can reword the sentence if you don’t like using THAT and THE FACT THAT.

  • It is shocking that he has never kissed a girl.
  • It is unbelievable to me that he hasn’t eaten any fruits yet.

Watch my YouTube lesson to master noun clauses in English:

Noun clause in English

Leave a Comment